Reaching for a radically more humane immigration system is not pie-in-the-sky, utopian dreaming. But it does require a certain measure of humility on the part of those of us who have benefited from birthright citizenship. Rather than viewing immigrants as seeking something that we, Americans, have a moral right to withhold from them, we ought to begin by acknowledging that none of us who were born here did anything to deserve our citizenship, and yet all of us — no matter where we were born — deserve compassion and basic human rights.
It’s tempting to imagine that our position as gatekeepers is morally sound — since we’re frequently reminded that “all nations have a right to defend their borders” — but our relationship to those who are fleeing poverty and violence is morally complex. Not only does birthright citizenship bestow upon us a privileged status that we haven’t earned; our nation’s unparalleled wealth and power, as well as our actual borders, lack a sturdy moral foundation. But for slavery, genocide and colonization, we would not be the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world — in fact, our nation would not even exist. This is not hyperbole; it’s history. There’s good reason some Mexicans say: “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.” That is, in fact, what happened.